What Can Aristotle Teach Us About Branding And Marketing?

We are all aware of the marketers’ constant refrains: “We need a call to action”, “Make the call to action more immediate/bigger/impactive”, “The CTA needs to be the imperative”, etc. But not all marketers are familiar with the reasons why people take action. The best KNOW that it’s all about psychology.

And forward-thinking brand strategists have also long been singing from the same song sheet. How human motivation and psychological connections are needed for a successful, engaging brand. The need to connect with the customers & to strive to create an emotional ‘brand bond’.

Coca-cola’s market value is around $120 billion. But its market cap, excluding brand value, is about £50 billion. So that’s $70 billion of brand value!

Is that a glass half full or half empty to you? Whichever, it is clear that the brand value is substantial to Coke’s success.

And just like brand value, an effective call to action can directly correspond to ROI and increased profits, so let’s see what we can apply from Aristotle’s insights.

According to Aristotle, the seven causes of human action are:

1. Chance

In our terms of reference – the world of branding and communications – it’s much better to say we should leave nothing to chance. Any call to action needs to be clear – with no room for ‘chance’, misunderstanding or confusion.

Make it clear and make it easy. Anything that involves too much effort for the action taker will result in an aborted effort.

User Experience (UX) design has become a huge aspect of any website design and app design process. On websites, people expect to both find and be able to action things quickly.

Some tests suggest people can spend less than 0.5 seconds on a landing page – they want to identify their route off that page (and do what they came to your site to do) as swiftly as possible.

Others test suggest more than three clicks and the visitor gets frustrated and may leave your site without completing any actions. Even asking for one additional piece of information, or one more click of the mouse to complete an order can mean they simply opt-out.

But UX design is also becoming a familiar aspect in lots of other areas of customer interaction. If we are to take seriously the mantra that we need to make any experience of our brand, business or product as enjoyable and pain free as possible for the customer then it’s not surprising that the user experience is fast becoming of key importance at every customer touch-point. All our communications need to help consumers understand what the next step is – what we need them to do next.

Confusion is public enemy number one in relation to marketing – and it’s also the number one brand killer.

2. Nature

Human nature and environmental nature.

This opens up a lot of areas of discussion about nurture vs. nature etc. (which we can’t go into here or we’d need to write a small book). Suffice to say that most psychologists now seem to recognise that it’s not so much an ‘either/or’ but a ‘plus/and’ relationship.

What is important is that these aspects play important roles in motivating consumers to take action.

For our purposes, and to help to clarify, we prefer to use the word ‘values’ when thinking about nature.

If the actions I’m asking you to take and the road I’m asking you to walk do not align correctly with your values (nature) then resistance or rejection will happen. And such a ‘disconnect’ is very hard to recover from.

3. Compulsion

The compulsion to act can be a big factor. We’ve probably all made an impulse buy at some point: an additional ‘sweet treat’ at the supermarket checkouts, that item of clothing that is now stuck at the back of the closet, or that pastry when all we went in for was a coffee!

But these are the downsides to compulsion. For the sake of this piece, we simply want to underline that compulsion/impulse can be our friend when it comes to getting people to engage with us.

It’s the method used by most charity telethons. If you simply do this NOW you can help X to do Y.

Making it easy for customers to take action and to act on their impulses will always improve results.

4. Habit

Like it or not, we are all creatures of habit. Most habitual nature is subconscious so we rarely even notice or acknowledge it but it plays a huge role in how and when we make decisions and take action.There are 2 aspects to this for us to consider. The habits of your company and how you do business and the habits of the customer.

What are the habits of a good company? One of the biggest is consistency – showing up regularly (in the places your customers ‘hang-out and so they get used to seeing you there).

So understanding your customers habits and behaviour is crucial here!

Delivering consistently is a habit that we should all aim to grow. If a company meets or exceeds the customers’ expectations repeatedly, then you create a brand-bond, and that customer slowly shifts to become a loyal customer – and better still an evangelical advocate or a ‘fan’.

Habits can be formed relatively easily according to experts.This is why marketers create customer avatars and ideal customer identities. Knowing the customer – their buying habits, their industry habits etc. all make it easier to identify ways to connect with them, speak their language, to be seen ‘where they go’. Repetition and consistency are critical to developing trust in your brand, and your marketing message and we gain a good reputation by developing the habit of delivering above and beyond our customers expectations.

5. Reason

Reason, as used by Aristotle, is not so much the old left-brain, right-brain discussion. In his usage reason is the process of thinking, of the rational over the irrational.

Some liken this to Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’, building from basic needs (food, water, rest etc.), through psychological needs (friendship, accomplishment, prestige etc.), to self-fulfilment needs (personal development, creative activities, spirituality).

I prefer to also link this to the MacLeans’s Triune Brain Theory.

This states that there are 3 areas of the brain that often get called different terms but the most accessible are the survival brain (you might have also heard it called the reptilian, base, primordial, crisis, lizard brain or even the Basal Ganglia) – this is essentially the ‘fight or flight’ brain that looks after our automated systems, instincts, breathing, pain.

The second state commonly referred to as the Emotional brain (the Limbic system or Mammalian brain) affects empathy, feelings, memory and habits.

The 3 third brain area is the Rational (or Logical brain, Human Brian, the Neocortex, or the thinking brain) – which as the name suggest is related to more considered or reasoned aspects of our existence (Language, learning, abstract thought, consciousness, imagination).

Marketing and branding tend to concentrate on the last 2, the Emotional Brain and the Rational Brian.

Research has shown that decisions are made in the Emotional brain. Gut decisions, driven by feelings – and only THEN, after we’ve actaully made our decision, do we look for logic and facts. It’s a kind of confirmation bias loop used to validate the choices we’ve made.

If you want to get a better ROI on your marketing and branding activities then stop concentrating on telling people all the facts and reasons why they should use you/your product and start connecting with them in a more emotional way. Appealing to their emotional, decision making brain first – and then delivering the facts to underpin their choices.

6. Passion

Passion is firmly seated in emotional brain, obviously. If we can discover and prompt the emotional trigger for each customer – it will motivate them to take action?

Passion is often a key aspect any brand manager is trying to create.
Strong emotions such as passion are like marmite. Some will be strongly ‘for you’ and others might be strongly against. That’s not a problem. Honestly.

Love or hate is always better than a lukewarm, indifference.

‘Love’ connections, will be passionate. They will be loyal, they will be brand advocates. They are ‘your tribe’, ‘your family’ and the tribe/family bond is very, VERY resilient.

7. Desire

Again this is an emotional term. Creating desire is about understanding the target audience’s wants and needs. What drives them.

Desire is about feelings – wanting a certain lifestyle, a personal benefit, a status, or other intangible (and often subconscious) goal.

Market research and customer feedback will help you to position your offering in ‘the desire zone’.

A Rolex does the same basic job as an unbranded watch. A BMW or a Bentley does the same basic job as a Citroen 2CV.

What, and why, people want what they want is the question we have to ask ourselves first? Then, how can we position our service/product to fulfil that desire?

It worth stressing here that that this has to be an authentic positioning too! Being inauthentic is a very quick way to damage your brand – but that is a whole other post for another time.

The Big Lesson for Marketers & Brand Managers

The big take away is that to be really successful you need to understand human behaviour and motivation.  Consumer behaviour is governed by our basic human needs and actions, which hasn’t changed since Aristotle wrote his 7 laws of human motivation.

Delivery pathways might change. Society might alter the way we like to do things (who in the 1960s could have foreseen the rise of on-line selling and the dominance of a company called Amazon?) but our basic psychological needs remain unchanged.